Skill: Outfitting saddle trappings


The manufacturing of saddles and harnesses for horses was, and still, requires considerable skill and often considerable patience.

The patience is important because not only does the health and comfort of the horse depend on the ability of the saddler, but so does the safety of the rider.

Attention to detail. The beauty and finish of the harness and its appurtenances are essential to the proper appearance presented by the whole equipage. A lot of attention is necessary for detail, such as buckles, mounts and ornamental sewing on straps and traces.

The procedures of the saddler trade are quite similar to the old-time shoemaker stitching, which is cutting leather to desired forms. The most difficult part of the business is the skillful making of a saddle.

Making a saddle. To fit the leather, pigskin was considered the best decades ago. Putting it over the iron shape and expertly arranging the padding was often a trying task.

For example, suppose a horse requires a special design. The saddler makes a good fitting, and to ensure a perfect smoothness and finish, the saddler had to skillfully use a hand iron and spokeshave.

Similar expertise is required in forming the collars to which the harness is attached. Therefore, every operation must be accomplished carefully and accurately to ensure comfort and that there are no injuries.

Clamps. Due to the amount of sewing required in the saddler’s work, clamps are used to hold the leather between his knees, quite similar to the method used by a shoemaker.

The saddler used an awl, a small hand-held device with a sharp point to create a hole in hard surfaces. Another tool was the prickling iron, a hand-held tool for preparing the surface for sewing.

Knives. Several types of knives were used for cutting and paring the leather: a round knife – small, long handle attached to a semicircular blade; a hand knife – quite similar to a linoleum knife; a cutting gauge – resembles a depth gauge used by woodworkers; compasses – for regulating circular cutting; and a hammer – resembling a tack hammer used to hammer small nails.

A punch was employed to do what the name implies: make holes in the leather where needed. A dead punch was not intended for cutting.

Small tours. Several small tools were used, each with a definite purpose. The seat and packing awl each had a different palm-held handle. Any awl was for punching small holes where required.

These two awls were used in the padding and making saddles and collars.

The nail claw appears like a woodworker’s tack puller. This was used for removing nails upon saddle and any leather repair.

Another device, the single and double crease, was used to make channels in the leather along the edges where sewing was required.

Thus, the sewing stitches are below the surrounding surface, preventing wear on the thread. The edging iron served the same purpose.

Attention to detail. In common saddlery, some unimportant straps or smaller gear are not sewn at the edges. Actually, quite a lot of sewing is for ornamental design only.

However, to create an accepted appearance, these straps are not left plain, but are creased along the edges. The channels sometimes are pierced with the prickling iron as described earlier.

This had a sharp, multiple-point edge, perhaps about 20 thin points. This gave the appearance, for decoration, of having stitching.


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